In my early teens I moved to Pensacola, FL and started the 10th grade here. Of course the thought of walking into a brand new school filled me with anxiety but it shouldn’t have. Within a few weeks I made a friend, and then another and so forth. This collection of friends expanded to form our group of about ten, and we did everything together. Five girls, five guys…it was like we were ten siblings. I could call anyone for anything. We were unique but kindred spirits. With them I felt like I was safe and free to be who I am. I think of them in particular every fall, when the air turns cool and I can hear the band from the high school during Friday night football games. It always takes me back to the fall of 1987 when our little group came together.
It was not always that way. I grew up in Connecticut. Stayed in one school district until third grade and then moved to another, more urban area after my mother remarried.. I stayed in touch with my childhood best friend after the move and we saw each other occasionally. In most grades of my early school years I made one good friend plus a few other casual ones. In middle school I had few friends and was bullied relentlessly in my 7th grade year. Spent a lackluster 18 months in junior high after moving to Florida with my father, and then moving to Pensacola turned everthing around for me. I owe so much to my little group.
When I look at my son I don’t want to see him reliving that pain of my early years, but I do. We live in a neighborhood without any children. For his first few years, he spent every day being doted on by his grandparents, and never started day care until he was two years old. He’s sensitive, he’s solitary, he wants to join in but often doesn’t know how. Since he’s started school I’ve heard the same story a dozen times…he wants to play but the other kids shut him out. I know it’s him and not them. I also know that the alpha-males in every group can be little butt-holes. I know that his gentle personality combined with a pack mentality serve to isolate him from groups that he was very much to be a part of.
I walked into his after school program at his karate school yesterday I saw children in little groups of three or four sitting together on the floor, waiting for their parents. My eyes darted from group to group until he was pointed out to me, a solitary figure in the center of the room, sitting quietly with his backpack. He was emotional on the car ride home. Eli “acts like a blackbelt” and tries to dominate everyone. Josh says he has homework and can’t play.
I know that pain and I ache when I see it in him. That shame of having to sit alone, knowing that everyone in the room can see that you are sitting alone. The desire to be like the others, but knowing that you’re not. Someday the things that set him apart will be his greatest attributes. His quiet, tender spirit will enable him to exercise great compassion and generosity toward others. His sensitivity will soften his words. He will choose a vocation of meaning and purpose.
But for now, my desire to extinguish the pain in his little world overtakes me, and I ache for him. I don’t want him to feel what I felt, or take another ten years to find a group of friends who make him feel what I already know: that he is perfect in every way, just as he is at this moment.